Okay here is a quick quiz for all of our readers. Think back to when you were seventeen…what were you doing with your life? School? Probably. Work? Maybe. Published author and running your own non-profit corporation? I am going to go out on a limb and say no. I know when I was seventeen I was working at a local restaurant cutting strawberries and making strawberry pies.
Our author spotlight this week is on author Riley Carney, an amazing seventeen year old dynamo.
Here is a brief bio:
Riley Carney is seventeen years old and has written eight novels, including a five-book fantasy adventure series for grades 4-8 and an urban fantasy trilogy for ages 12 and up. The first book of the five-book Reign of the Elements series, The Fire Stone, was released in January 2010, and the second book, The Water Stone, was released in July 2010. Riley is also passionate about promoting global literacy for children through her nonprofit corporation, Breaking the Chain, which she founded three years ago because she believes that the key to breaking the cycle of poverty is by increasing literacy.
What was your road to publication?
I decided I wanted to be published after I finished my first novel. It was important to me to try to get published for a number of reasons. I wrote a fantasy story that I really enjoyed writing and I wanted to share that story with other kids. My experiences with children’s literacy have shown me that ages 8-14 are important in determining whether a child will be a reader or not; some kids are just beginning to be able to read well and those who are already readers often stop reading between these ages, especially boys. I think the fantasy genre attracts new readers and keeps the drop-out readers interested and engaged in reading. I hope that a boy or girl somewhere enjoys my stories, or stories like mine, enough to either begin reading in earnest or continue reading.
Before I began submitting, I spent many months editing my manuscript, then I let people I trust read my manuscript and I listened to constructive criticism from people who know about writing. Once my manuscript was edited, I began to submit it to agents. It’s very difficult to secure representation by an agent, especially as a teenager. The best solution for me was a small, independent publisher.
The most important thing I did during the publication process was to keep writing. I was doing what I loved, I became a better writer, and my next book was ready if things didn’t work out with the first book. I think it’s really important to remember to write because you love to write. If you write for enjoyment and for the sake of sharing a story, your writing will be drastically better and publication will likely be the pleasant result.
Can you tell me a bit about your writing process? Do you plot or not?
I am a plotter, but I wasn’t always a plotter, I became one out of necessity. Before I wrote The Fire Stone, I had struggled for several years to write the same story. I would write seventy pages, and then it would occur to me that I had absolutely no idea where I was going with it, and I would hit a wall. Eventually, I would begin again – but to no avail! I did that over and over until I realized that I needed to have a plan.
When I wrote my first book, The Fire Stone, I sat down and wrote an outline. Because of the outline, I wrote the first draft in less than a month. Now, whenever I start to write a book, I make an outline first. I begin with a few notes about my story, explore my characters a bit, maybe even write a page or two. Once my idea has begun to grown, I will construct the basic plot points. I start with a very bare-bones sketch of what I think might happen. Then, I begin to add to that skeleton.
I outline the story chapter by chapter, allowing up to a page of prose to describe each chapter. I begin to put in details so that everything fits together, but also so that I can remember important things that I want to add to certain scenes. Often, I’ll even add snippets of dialogue, humor, or emotion into certain scenes in the outline. When I begin to write I give myself as much freedom as I want to add, delete, or change directions.
I have changed major characters and added whole chapters to my story that weren’t in my original outline. I still have the option to let my characters alter the story, but using an outline ensures that the story actually gets written. After the story is written, it can always be edited and tweaked until it feels right, but my writing motto is to just get it on the page. The only way my writing will always get on the page is with an outline.
I’m almost finished with the first book of a YA dystopian trilogy, but I never tell anything about projects that I’m currently working on because I’m afraid I’ll jinx it!
Describe your studio or usual work space for us.
I usually write at my desk in my bedroom, but I do move around to other locations inside and outside my house. As long as I have my computer, my iPod, and something that I can play with my hands when I need to get my creative juices flowing, like a hacky-sack, a small ball, or silly putty, I can write anywhere.
What profession do you plan to pursue?
I definitely see myself as a career author, but I also plan to have another career. I love to write and will always write. Since a lot of my ideas come from observing things around me, though, I think it’s important to be doing other things besides writing to keep my ideas fresh. I am very interested in history, political science, international relations, and languages, so we’ll have to see what evolves as I go through college. I also hope to continue my work with Breaking the Chain and continue to promote education opportunities for at-risk children for many years in the future.
What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?
My older brother is exactly a foot taller than I am. I’m 5’6”, which isn’t short, but next to Nick I look positively hobbit-like!
How do you juggle being a writer, speaker and a student?
The only way I can get everything done is to be organized and disciplined. Until the middle of my sophomore year, I went to traditional schools, and wrote my books and took care of my nonprofit in the evenings and on the weekends. Once I started speaking at schools, I changed my school situation and began taking my classes online through Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth and other programs. An average day is pretty busy for me, but I write every chance I can. I do all my schoolwork in the morning and early afternoon, except on days that I’m speaking at schools or traveling to speak. After school, my day is devoted to my nonprofit for children’s literacy and to writing. I write for two to four hours almost every day, and I also make time for reading, martial arts, running or yoga, and spending time with my family and friends.
Where do you find the inspiration for your stories?
I get ideas from everything! Reading is a great way to prime your imagination, and people or things or circumstances can all give me ideas. I might see a man with the plaid pants standing three people ahead of me in line and I’ll wonder what he might have had for breakfast, why he picked those pants, why he keeps looking at his watch? I ask myself questions about him until I begin to create a whole imaginary world involving him. I write down all of my ideas – big or small. Once I start to get the inkling of an idea (and write it down!) I’ll take my time thinking about it and expand on it. I have a notebook that is filled with jotted down notes, and I go back to it all the time when I’m actually developing an outline.
We here at Writing on the Sidewalk tend to procrastinate with our writing, where do you fit in Procrastinator or Proactive?
I’m definitely proactive! I write almost every day and always make sure that I put aside some time to write, even if it’s only a few minutes. Right now I’m really busy; I am taking six AP courses, applying to colleges, speaking at schools, running my non-profit, working out every day, doing interviews and social media, spending time with family and friends, reading, and writing every day. I just always put writing on my schedule, and I make sure it happens. I tell myself that even if I only write for twenty minutes every day, which is approximately a page a day, I’ll have a book in less than a year. For me, the writing process is so enjoyable that I want to do it. Of course, I don’t like the editing process nearly as much, but if I do that in pieces, too, it’s not as formidable.
Thanks Riley, you are truly and inspiration.
Writing on the Sidewalk